Monday, September 27, 2010

Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez

Wow…those are two names I never thought I’d see in the same title. Although I haven’t seen many episodes of American Idol there are a ton of artists I really like that came from that show - Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Daughtry and Crystal Bowersox just to name a few. While there have always been amazing singers on Idol, the judges have managed to gain more publicity than the talent whether it’s Simon Cowell’s biting responses, Randy Jackson’s consistent use of the word “dawg” or Paula Abdul’s nutjob behavior.

After Abdul left the show in 2009, songwriter Kara DioGuardi took over her seat. Although she has cred for the hit songs she’s written for several artists with huge voices, she was never that impressive to me as a judge. Knowing that 2010 would mark Cowell’s final year, Idol set out to shake things up last season by adding a fourth judge – the fabulous Ellen DeGeneres who I’m assuming they were trying out as a replacement for Cowell. I thought she was great but after only one season she called it quits and DioGuardi followed her lead.

With only one judge left (Jackson) rumors began swirling around the entertainment industry about who would fill the remaining judge chairs. Names like Justin Timberlake, Jessica Simpson and Elton John were thrown around but the final choices ended up being Aerosmith’s charismatic lead singer Steven Tyler and Jenny from the Block. Two extremely successful artists who couldn’t be more different. While Boston-bred Tyler has been the voice behind one of America’s greatest rock and roll bands for over four decades, Lopez was the first actress-singer to have a number one album and a number one movie in the same week.

I’ve been an Aerosmith fan for as long as I can remember (my dog is named after an Aerosmith song for crying out loud) and I can’t wait to hear what Tyler has to say when it comes to spotting or dismissing new talent. I’m wondering how critical he is going to be or if he will be kind to his fellow artists. As far as J-Lo is concerned I’ve never been a huge fan but obviously the woman who has been successful both on screen and in the studio has something to offer and I’m ready to hear what she has to say.

The new season of American Idol featuring the new lineup of judges will begin in January 2011. Until then do yourself a favor and listen to some Aerosmith classics like “Sweet Emotion,” “Back in the Saddle,” “Crazy,” “Dream On” and “Walk This Way” or maybe ones you haven’t heard like “Sedona Sunrise” and “Mama Kin” while thinking about which scarf Tyler will use to decorate his microphone. You should also listen to some Lopez albums like On The 6 and J.Lo or maybe even pop in some of her better movies like Out Of Sight and Selena.

I predict that January’s Idol premiere is going to be a big one as new singers and new judges will bring in new viewers and curious old viewers. Let the talent show begin.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

All You Need Is A Hook

As we all know there is a lot that goes into making a successful song and you can never outguess the listener. A single that one person might think will top the charts may never reach the top ten while another song will surprisingly be the hit of the season. Either way, the hook is what catches the listener’s attention so most likely it will be found in or consist of the chorus and will function as the mouthpiece of the song. The hook is also a musical or lyrical phrase that stands out and is easily remembered because it’s attention-grabbing, easy to dance to and has lyrics people can sing along to.

It recently dawned on me that when it comes to hip hop and rap songs the hook is usually sung by a female who has a killer voice.


“Empire State Of Mind” – Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys
“Run This Town” – Jay-Z featuring Rihanna
“Love The Way You Lie” – Eminem featuring Rihanna
“Live Your Life” – T.I. featuring Rihanna
“Southside” – Moby featuring Gwen Stefani
“Airplanes” – B.o.B. featuring Hayley Williams

Clearly Rihanna has recently become the queen of the hook which has only added to her appeal. I really like Rihanna but I’d honestly rather hear her voice as the hook in conjunction with a male voice instead of just hearing her voice throughout an entire song. Jay-Z definitely knows how to pick ‘em when it comes to females singing the hooks to his songs since he has chosen Rihanna, Alicia Keys and Beyonce for past songs. “Run This Town” and “Empire State Of Mind” have been inescapable this year and when Jay-Z sang with Beyonce in “’03 Bonnie And Clyde” everyone’s ears perked up.

Eminem recently scored a top ten hit when everyone’s favorite Barbados girl joined him in “Love The Way You Lie,” while B.o.B. and Hayley Williams recently performed “Airplanes” on the MTV Video Music Awards. In 1999 Moby found that one of the most popular songs on his album Play and ultimately one of his most successful songs of all time was “Southside” featuring Gwen Stefani.

So does this mean that having a female voice to sing the hook of your song guarantees a hit? Not necessarily. But, I do find it interesting that these collaborations have become exceedingly popular and frequent over the past decade. I’m always a fan of collaborations, especially when fusing rock and rap together, because I think some amazing music has come out of these partnerships (i.e. Aerosmith and Run D.M.C. singing “Walk This Way” in 1986) but it’s hard to know when something is going to work. I’m by no means a fan of Hayley Williams’ band Paramore but I do love her hook on “Airplanes.” Who would have guessed? Also, while collaborations between males and females is nothing new (i.e. Mariah and ODB on “Fantasy” in 1995) I think the partnerships have made a much more significant impact on the music business in recent years. Whether it’s a female featuring a male or vice versa I hope that these collaborations continue because in an industry that seems to be fading more and more as the days go by these creative choices throw a welcomed spark to an unfortunate situation.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Always Volunteer At The GABF

Unless you aren’t a Denver resident, going to the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) and not volunteering is a huge mistake. With over 400 breweries presenting booths and vying for medals, GABF is the largest commercial beer competition in the world. In short, it is the Super Bowl of beers contests. Breaking all of its pervious ticket sales records, the GABF sold out five weeks in advance to thirsty people eager to try approximately 3,000 different beers under one roof.

Attracting 151 beer judges from 10 countries, award-winning brewers have the chance to win prestigious gold, silver and bronze medals in 79 beer categories. If you want to take part in this three-day beeraplooza then you’ll have to be willing to pay $55 a night - unless you plan ahead and find a way to volunteer. In my case, I was lucky. Rod’s boss has been volunteering at the GABF for the past few years and invited me to join them. When I agreed to volunteer I didn’t know what to expect but figured it might resemble wine festivals I’ve attended in the past. I was kind of right. Sort of.

First of all, the GABF takes place in the Denver Convention Center to accommodate thousands of people who are ready to drink. (And also so the big blue bear could watch in awe). While some had a very short distance to travel such as the rowdy locals on the light rail, others traveled from other states such as Las Vegas, California, Texas, etc. for the ultimate weekend of boozing. Knowing that the number of attendees would be close to 50,000, GABF-goers started getting in line early but as the time crept closer to 5:30 p.m. the line wrapped around the convention center and down two blocks. As a volunteer, not only do you not to have pay but you also don’t have to wait in that horrifying line. Instead, volunteers get their own entrance and get to waltz in without any hassle. Once inside, the fun begins.

Each volunteer is part of a team (we were the Mile High Tappers) and is assigned to a brewery. Our jobs were to pour different kinds of beer for all walks of life. While some attendees were very polite others felt the need to bang their one ounce glasses around as they demanded to taste as many beers as possible. There were also people in costume, whether it was matching t-shirts with funny sayings like “I don’t get drunk, I get awesome” or candy-colored hats and glittered Elton John glasses. People were stoked to be there and ready to drink.

That being said, getting too wasted at the GABF is a rookie maneuver whether you’re an attendee or a volunteer because if someone sees that you are too drunk to function they will escort you out. Team captains watched to make sure volunteers only poured the allotted tasting amount and made sure no one was getting too tipsy. A popular way to avoid this happening is to wear necklaces made up of snacks like pretzels, cheese, sausages, crackers and whatever else people can put on string. Not only is it festive but it’s very smart. As we all know eating is key when you’re going to be drinking.

All and all my first GABF experience was great. I met a lot of fun people and talked to brewers from all over the country. In addition to tasting good beers, the people-watching is also a fun aspect of the event. Beer lovers from across the nation gathered to taste beer and have a good time – it’s really something to see. And I’m not even a beer drinker! Given the opportunity I will definitely volunteer again next year because being part of the event while participating in the event is definitely the way to go. Plus, it’s nice to get to do everything for free. The Great American Beer Festival is listed as one of the top 1,000 places in the US to visit before you die and now I can see why that's the case. See ya next year for the 30th Anniversary!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Reggie Bush Is Not Milli Vanilli

Giving awards back/having awards taken away is never easy. Just as 80s/90s “pop group” Milli Vanilli who had to give back their 1990 Best New Artist Grammy Award when it was embarrassingly revealed on live television that Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus were lip syncing. Not only was their secret out but they became the biggest joke in the music business. In addition to their Grammy Award being taken away, Arista Records dropped the act from its roster and deleted their album and its masters from their catalog, taking their hit single, “Girl You Know It's True,” out of print. Don’t mess with Clive Davis. After these details emerged, at least 26 different lawsuits were filed under various U.S. consumer fraud protection laws against Pilatus, Morvan and Arista Records.

Apparently this kind of scandal doesn’t just happen in the music business – it happens in sports too. Yesterday, former USC All-American and current member of the New Orleans Saints Reggie Bush gave back his Heisman Trophy which was awarded to him in 2005. Since there was already talk of the NCAA taking the trophy away from him he saved himself some dignity and returned it on his own. All the controversy stems from the NCAA’s determination that Bush committed multiple violations during his 2005 Heisman-winning season at USC, including accepting cash, gifts and other benefits.

The fact that they are taking this trophy away from him is ridiculous. If anyone thinks that Bush is the only collegiate athlete that has gotten special treatment they are outside of their minds. He was just a big time college football player who put up big numbers, got a lot of attention and got caught. It seems to me that the NCAA was looking to make an example out of someone and unfortunately Bush was the one who took the fall. What’s even worse is that taking away this trophy will now be the first thing that comes to peoples' minds when they hear the name Reggie Bush. He has officially pulled an O.J. Simpson in that people now associate Simpson’s name with murder and it’s as if all his athletic accomplishments are erased. Clearly what Bush did is not even close to being in the same vicinity as murder but being the first Heisman Trophy winner in history to give back his award is still something that he will never live down. And that’s a shame.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Season Finales And Premieres

Finales and premieres can say a lot about our favorite television shows. As summer comes to and end so do some of the shows I enjoy the most such as the Mark Wahlberg produced Entourage which went out with a bang in anticipation of its final season that will air next summer.

This season I saw my favorite male HBO foursome grow up while the movie star who got them where they are started to crash and burn. After so many seasons of watching Vincent Chase coast through life without any issues or consequences it’s actually nice to see him hit a few speed bumps. It makes him more human. He finally found a girl that he wants to be with but she’s a porn star who parties hard and is one of the first people in awhile who doesn’t need him. As a result he picked up a drug problem along with a serious attitude problem, neither of which he thinks he has. He also delivered one of the most honest lines of the series: “I know you all need me but I’ll call you if I need any of you.” Finally the truth comes out.

Just as Entourage ended Gossip Girl began and that also means that the fall shows are back. My favorite Upper East Side kings and queens are sure to bring the drama and make us jealous of their lives. As much as some of these characters make me want to reconsider NYC as part of America there are others who make me believe that television shows about rich kids can still be entertaining. High school turns to college and college turns into life. We’ll see where it all leads.

A Few Notes On An Explosive Finale:


-Johnny Drama finally becomes a character we can relate to
-Vince Chase embraces the cliché celebrity we have been waiting for
-Eric has to deal with a wicked father-in-law who brings out his fangs
-Turtle’s lame tequila story line is still boring but as a character he is less annoying
-As shocking as it is, Billy Walsh is still the voice of reason
-Eminem was the guest star and gets called out by Vince for being too mainstream to fight his own fights
-Ari’s wife leaves him after years of arguing and frustration

A Few Notes On The Premiere We’ve Been Waiting For:

Gossip Girl

-Featuring a play by play of Paris the City Of Light has never had better P.R.
-Melrose Place’s former bad girl Katie Cassidy is a welcomed new addition
-Chuck is still alive – which is equivalent to saving the series
-Blair is finally honest with Serena but I’m honestly over their frienemy bullshit
-Nate is whoring it up but isn’t afraid to admit it
-Dan Humphrey is a father and the mother might just be one of the most evil antagonists on television…we’ll see how long she stays around
-So glad that Jenny is gone for good – I was so over the scheming, along with her bleach blonde Rapunzel hair and raccoon eye makeup

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Getting Lost In Long Lists

While it is no secret that I love lists I think sometimes magazines and music channels get a little carried away. The most effective lists are the ones that are a little shorter – top ten, 20, 25 and maybe 50. But even 50 is pushing it. Once the powers that be get into doing lists of the top 100 or 500 of anything I start to wonder what the difference is between number 76 on the list and number 134 on the list.

The most recent of these long lists is VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists Of All Time which highlighted the best of the best in music over the course of the last four nights. The special was very well done as they compiled amazing footage of these artists performing some of their biggest hits. The show also featured an eclectic group of commentators such as Sheryl Crow, Cypress Hill, Ozzy Osbourne and Bret Michaels, among others, who were there to give anecdotes and talk about their fabulous peers.

Because there was no time frame on this list (i.e. this wasn’t a list of the best artists of the 90s) and it wasn’t narrowed down at all (i.e. greatest guitar songs of all time) VH1 compiled their results by asking over 200 artists to vote and send in their ballots. Big names such as Carrie Underwood, Alicia Keys and the members of bands such as Aerosmith and The Police were among those who were polled.

But here is my question: How do you go about putting a list like that together? First of all, you have to come up who your favorite artists are which is a task in and of itself. Then you have to put them in order. How the hell do you do that? What do you take into consideration? Maybe you ask yourself: How many songs do I like? How often do I listen to this band? How many times have I seen them live? Have their songs gotten me through tough times? Have they helped me celebrate happy times? I could go on and on…

Another aspect of this whole thing that’s interesting is that this isn’t the first time VH1 has compiled a list like this. In 1998 VH1 released a list called 100 Greatest Artists Of Rock And Roll which was very similar except hip hop and rap artists were left off the list. Either way I was very interested to see how the lists compared to each other so I looked at the top 20 artists from 1998 and 2010 and what I found was fascinating.

Here’s what did not surprise me:

-The Beatles were ranked number one on both lists. Do I agree? Not so much but I wasn’t shocked at all.
-Prince jumped from number 18 in 1998 to a more suitable spot at number seven in 2010.
-Led Zeppelin clocked in at number four on both lists. Hell yeah.
-Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Elvis Presley occupied positions in the top 10 on both lists. I should hope so.
-The Who, Stevie Wonder and The Beach Boys barely shifted spots between 1998 and 2010.

Here is what did surprise me:

-Michael Jackson was ranked number three this year but didn’t even make the top 20 in 1998. Was he so high on the list this year because of his death in 2009? I hope not considering there has never been and will never be an artist quite like MJ.
-Nirvana was not listed in the top 20 in 1998 which was only four years after his death. Have we seen another Kurt Cobain since? Not even close.
-David Bowie was number 12 on the list this year and he was number seven in 1998. Seriously?
-Ray Charles, Eric Clapton and Elton John made the top 20 in 1998 but not in 2010. Those are three of music’s most important pioneers for crying out loud.
-AC/DC didn’t appear in the top 20 on either list. I wasn’t aware you could get more rock and roll than AC/DC.

Twelve years separated the two lists and they were very different. I wonder what VH1 will come up with in 2022…

Monday, September 6, 2010

Sons Of Anarchy Is Back!

After waiting entirely too long for season three, the FX series Sons Of Anarchy returns tomorrow for what will most likely be its most intense season yet. Centered around an outlaw motorcycle club that resides in Charming, California (I know I don’t have to go into the irony of a name like that) Sons features a bunch of dudes on big bikes who make their money selling guns while using a car repair shop as their front. Does this sound like the Sopranos on motorcycles? It should because even with all the leather, snarling conversation, booze, endless parade of women and gun fights, at the end of the day this show is really about doing whatever it takes you protect your family. The way in which this motorcycle club takes care of their own is Mafioso in every sense of the word even if it means killing people, severely injuring them or running them out of town. Maybe Tony Soprano should have gone into the Harley business.

Generally speaking, residents of Charming no better than to mess with these guys or anyone who has any ties to them but others don’t take the same caution. As a result of their outlaw status, SAMCRO (the nickname of the club that roughly stands for “Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original”) has dealt with run-ins with ATF, threats from drug dealers, corporate developers and overzealous law officers. Through the years members of SAMCRO have also served lengthy jail sentences and the club has been hit with the death of family members and friends.

Vice president of the club and our protagonist, Jackson “Jax” Teller (Charlie Hunnam), is the complicated core of this club and the family. His father died in a tragic accident we’ve heard very little about, he has an infant son whose junkie mother is no longer in the picture and is currently dating a doctor named Tara who he used to date many years ago. Jax’s mother, Gemma Teller Morrow (Katey Sagal), is a force to be reckoned with and might be the most Mafioso of anyone in the club. Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman) is Jax's stepfather and the aging president of SAMCRO. As time has passed, hints have been revealed about the dark secrets of this family’s past and the relationship between mother, son and stepfather have been severely strained. I’m assuming that this season we will learn why Gemma and Clay have gone to such great lengths to protect their sins.

Season two ended with Jax’s son Abel being kidnapped and Jax and Clay finally finding out about Gemma being raped so tomorrow’s premiere should be quite the kickoff to what is expected to be an explosive season. It’s a mistake to think this is a testosterone-fueled, gear head show that has no substance because the emotion that comes through behind all the bikes, guns and tough talk makes for great television. Although they are an outlaw motorcycle club, I find myself rooting for those who are part of SAMCRO because regardless of the avenues they take, there is nothing they wouldn’t do for their family or each other.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Santana Brings Out The Big Guns

On September 21, Santana will release his latest album which is comprised entirely of cover songs. The disc, entitled Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time, features an impressive list of guest vocalists and may just be the greatest covers mix ever created:

“Whole Lotta Love” featuring Chris Cornell (Led Zeppelin)

“Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’” featuring Scott Weiland (The Rolling Stones)

“Sunshine Of Your Love” featuring Rob Thomas (Cream)

“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” featuring india.arie and Yo-Yo Ma (The Beatles)

“Dance the Night Away” featuring Pat Monahan (Van Halen)

“Back In Black” featuring Nas and Janelle Monáe (AC/DC)

“Riders On the Storm” featuring Chester Bennington and Ray Manzarek (The Doors)

“Smoke On the Water” featuring Jacoby Shaddix (Deep Purple)

“Photograph” featuring Chris Daughtry (Def Leppard)

“Bang A Gong” featuring Gavin Rossdale (T. Rex)

“Little Wing” featuring Joe Cocker (Jimi Hendrix)

“I Ain’t Superstitious” featuring Jonny Lang (Howlin’ Wolf, Jeff Beck Group)

I don’t know about you, but I’m chomping at the bit for this one! Twenty days and counting…